Saturday, October 2, 2004

Stifling new thinking is bad thinking

Your voice: David Cave

In August the Department of Homeland Security, under a provision of the Patriot Act, revoked Tariq Ramadan's visa. Ramadan is a highly respected Islamic scholar from Switzerland whose teachings bridge Islamic with Western thought on the subjects of building democracy, fostering religious toleration and advancing diversity of opinion. He was invited by the University of Notre Dame to be the Henry R. Luce professor of religion, conflict and peace-building at the Kroc Institute of Peace Studies.

Revoking Ramadan's visa was a bad decision. It was also a failure of the imagination. It undermines the very efforts we should be pursuing to foster rapprochement between the United States and the Islamic world and between Christians and Muslims.

Ramadan is a controversial figure, as much for his pedigree as for his controversial views. But it is precisely because of his stature in Europe and the Muslim world, and his provocative views on Western culture and Islamic values, that makes it an imaginative act to allow him to come.

In his book on how to change peoples' minds, the educator and cognitive scientist Howard Gardner says that fundamentalism "voluntarily suspends the imagination;" for to it there is only one way. It allows no room for seeing others' point of view. Thus fundamentalism spawns confrontation.

The recently released 9/11 commission report blamed, among other things, a failure of imagination - our inability to imagine such a scenario, to visualize possibilities.

Failing to visualize possibilities is one type of a failure of the imagination. But we also fail at the imagination when we resort to simplistic divisions of the world into good vs. evil, when we say the Christian God is different from the Islamic God, when we believe America alone is right and can save the world, and when we fail to take a risk for a potentially greater opportunity

We have failed at the imagination in the past, and we certainly do not want to suspend it now.

Unless we exercise our imagination to think beyond the borders of how we look at the world, we will remain lodged in a policy of confrontation, which does nothing but keep the cycle of mistrust going. Minds will be changed more through the imaginative debate of ideas than through politics of confrontation.


David Cave holds a doctorate in world religions, and has taught at Northern Kentucky University, Xavier University, Hebrew Union College and the University of Cincinnati. He is development director for the UC Foundation.

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